Sage Advice UK

Growing a business from a unique idea: An interview with Lauren Aston

Lauren Aston began her knitting career at the age of 11, when her grandmother taught her to knit. She now owns Lauren Aston Designs, a super-chunky knitwear business creating unique merino wool designs. Aston has been featured in many national newspapers and interior design magazines and can be accredited in part, with starting a revival in knitting in the UK. Here, she shares advice on finding a unique business idea and making it grow with the right suppliers, local networks and goals.

So where did it all begin? Whilst in Devon, Aston went to The Contemporary Craft Festival: “It was incredible to be around people who were passionate about what they were doing. I loved the makers and I thought, I need to do this,” she says.

From that moment on Aston decided to hand-knit with giant knitting needles rather than use a knitting machine. “I thought, the bigger the yarn, the quicker it would be to knit [an item], it would also be more viable as a business doing it that way, rather than it taking me a month to knit a blanket.”

As with starting out with any business, Aston had to seek out the right materials and suppliers. “I went on a search to find the biggest yarn I could. It didn’t really exist back then [what I was doing]. It is much more prominent now. There was a lot of research and development involved before the right yarn was found. Once I found merino wool it was then a question of figuring it all out.

“It wasn’t a question of keeping costs down – as merino wool is a premium wool – but it was a question of trying to find the right suppliers, without losing quality. Accepting that it might be a bit of a risk was all part of the process.” Aston says she tried to source as much as she could from the UK and to “keep it British,” but this aspect was quite difficult as merino wool comes from all over the world, from New Zealand to South America.

She has seen her business grow from just herself and her dad to several employees: “At the beginning, it was just me working out of a little loft studio which my dad converted for me. Now I have five knitters who are local ladies.

“They are all freelance, as there isn’t enough work to employ them full time. They come once a week, they drop off what they have knitted and they collect new batches of wool and knit the rest. Our busiest time is October through to February – our Christmas period. We order in lots or red and white wool during this time!”

Learning from local networks

When she was starting out, Aston sought out local entrepreneurial networks.

“I turned to a creative network, based in Devon. I went along to this group, it was a bunch of lovely ladies from local and small businesses. Even if you think you know everything about business, you can still learn something. It’s good to meet a group of people in a similar boat. It’s always better to have some sort of network whether it’s online or offline,” says Aston.

She adds: “I also read a lot of blogs and I also love e-courses. I have completed ones on Instagram and photography. I think the more information you can learn the better. You can also learn from other people’s mistakes, rather than making them yourself.”

Does she have any tips for women starting up their own business?

“Attitude is key. Women, to a certain extent don’t believe they are good enough, and lack confidence. Don’t think you’re not good enough, but be realistic about your expectations. Make a to-do list, don’t beat yourself up. I also think you should believe in yourself and don’t start your own giant knitting business!” says Aston.

Finding your own business idea

Aston adds: “To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t suggest anyone starts a business like mine now as it’s so saturated. I think the best way to start a business is to have a unique idea as that’s what will make it stand out and sell.  If it’s a creative business then it’s also really important to build it around your own skills and products that you develop rather than just mimicking something you’ve seen that you like.”

Aston plans to just build and grow her brand in the long term: “It’s probably not the way to do it, but I try not to set specific goals, as if I don’t reach them I don’t want to feel disappointed or like I’ve failed. I prefer to just work as hard as I can and see where it takes me. With regards to stockists, I focus on smaller boutiques and independent retailers, as it suits my brand more and the fact that I hand knit everything, is part of its charm so I wouldn’t want to lose that by outsourcing.”